28 Jun 2022

Sportswear is more than just a garment

Sportswear is more than just a garment.

If you’re a sports person, you’re also a print person. You might not realise it, but print is a big deal in sports. Naturally, sportswear comes to mind first, but the bigger picture is much wider than that.

Garment Printing

For argument’s sake, let’s consider sportswear as one of the leading printing application technologies in sports today. Every team – whether it is cycling, running or football – has its own shirt. The sponsors’ logos need to be clearly printed on there, along with a name and number for each team member. Okay, so we have the branding issue covered.

Now let’s talk volume, because every village, town or city has its own football, volleyball, badminton and/or hockey team. And they all need their own shirts, so we’re talking big business.

Cycling is the worst, mind you. With so many sponsors looking for logo coverage, you simply have to use sublimation technologies. It’s cheaper to print than to apply all these logos with flock or solvent textile stickers.

Same principle for running gear, which is being personalised more often than not nowadays – I’m not talking about a small number of one-offs. So, printing the whole garment is again more profitable than applying the graphics afterwards. The rise of neon colour use makes it even more difficult to stick to traditional print, and the new neon dye sublimation colours finally make it possible to produce these garments digitally.

Advertising boards

Returning to my original statement, there truly is so much more printing going on in the sports world than sportswear. Just consider all the advertising boards around the pitches, fields and arenas. Some years ago (more than I care to remember), all you had to do was slap some vinyl letters onto Trespa boarding; now customers want full colour images on these boards. Applying full colour vinyl is a lot of work and now printing directly onto the boards with UV technologies is often more convenient. Besides, the rapidly changing sponsors make these signs obsolete after merely one or two seasons. Reprinting the boards might prove the better update once the term or sponsorship contract is over.

Talking about volatility in sponsorship, let’s have a look at the racing market. How about those big fancy motorhome-style trucks that need to cross the country and make heads turn? The better the print, the better the visibility for the team and sponsors. Hospitality areas also shouldn’t be neglected: there are numerous applications for flags, banners and much more. And let's not even get started on team merchandising... printed T-shirts, jackets and mugs with the pictures of the team drivers and sponsors on them and much, much more. All this is marketing material that should be digitally printed, as it needs to be tailored to each event.


I recently attended a GT3 race in the UK and feasted my eyes on the different prints. Print as far as the eye could see, I had to look for a spot that was not adorned with print. Who said print was dead?

The paddock areas looked more like a printing show than a garage; I spotted at least six different print technologies. Although vinyl applications are still big, full colour printing, sublimation, UV printing and latex were used in great abundance.

I was happy to see that print technology was used for the backdrops in the garage, the full colour prints on the cars and some of the signage on the trucks. When I asked why they applied print on the car and not standard paint with vinyl stickers, the reply I got left me speechless: weight! The weight reduction on the car was a whopping 3kg. How’s that for a USP for print?

Olympic Games

Did you know that at the last Winter Olympic Games over 15km of textile banner was used – all printed in full colour for barriers and out-of-stadium event areas?

Finish and start messaging? Printed. Numbers and identification cards for all athletes, coaches and trainers? Printed. Signage, advertising, country flags for the ceremonies? All printed.

Let me challenge you: next time you’re at a sports event, have a look around and let me know how many print technologies you have spotted. We’ll talk it over at the next race. Keep on printing.

Mike Horsten
Consultant and Freelance writer